It happened at the end of the school year. Bizarre. And beautiful. Bizarre because it’s the last place you would think to see real manhood. Beautiful because it was so real and unexpected. Here’s what happened.
Men in the Bible is a semester class I teach to young men at the high school. We spend the whole time answering only one question: “What is a real man?” It’s amazing to me to see how their answers change from the beginning to the end of the class. But that’s just at the conceptual level. A necessary start, but only a start. Walking into manhood can’t really happen in a classroom. It’s experiential. I even tell them that. But in this one case, I think I was wrong.
Near the end of the class, each young man has to write up his final project. In it, he must pick his favorite quote from the readings, describe three ideas to take away from the class, and construct some risks for himself. After they have written it up, they must then present it to the rest of their class. And they must choose when they are ready to present. One of the quieter young men decided it was his time and began to walk us through his project. And then it happened.
In the middle of his presentation, he began one of his sentences something like this: “And we, as men….” He went on to tell his thought, but I wasn’t listening anymore. My heart leaped a bit. For the magic had just happened. Unconsciously, without even knowing it, he had addressed himself and the rest of the class in a new way. Men.
When he finished speaking, I told everyone with some suspense that the most important moment in this class had just occurred. No one could figure it out, even the speaker! After guessing a bit, they anxiously plied me for the answer. Here is what I told them:
One of the reasons teenagers remain boys is that older men do not call them out as men. I have tried to address you as men throughout the semester on purpose for that very reason. And now one of you has done the same thing. At least for this one moment, I know that you beginning to see yourself in that way.
The bell rang, and I left the class pumped. I think the young man who spoke did also.